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KHN First Edition: January 4, 2018

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First Edition

Thursday, January 04, 2018                       Visit Kaiser Health News for the latest headlines

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations.

California Healthline: Drug Overdose Deaths Plateau In California, Soar Nationally
Even as the opioid crisis fueled overdose deaths across the nation, the number of Californians who succumbed to these and other drugs has remained stable, new federal data show. Deaths from opiates, cocaine and methamphetamines shot up by 35 percent in the United States between the year ending in May 2015 and that ending in May 2017, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis of statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Bartolone, 1/4)

The Hill: White House: Trump Hasn't Shifted On Not Cutting Entitlements
President Trump has not changed his position on protecting entitlement programs from funding cuts, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday. After last month's GOP victory on tax reform, many Republicans are calling for changes to the social safety net as a way to cut government spending. But, asked about Trump's repeated campaign pledge to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, Sanders said he doesn't support cuts to the programs. (Hellmann, 1/3)

Politico: Washington's Growing Obsession: The 25th Amendment
Lawmakers concerned about President Donald Trump’s mental state summoned Yale University psychiatry professor Dr. Bandy X. Lee to Capitol Hill last month for two days of briefings about his recent behavior. In private meetings with more than a dozen members of Congress held on Dec. 5 and 6, Lee briefed lawmakers — all Democrats except for one Republican senator, whom Lee declined to identify. Her professional warning to Capitol Hill: “He’s going to unravel, and we are seeing the signs.” (Karni, 1/3)

Politico: Trump's Firing Sets Back AIDS Prevention Efforts
President Donald Trump’s decision to fire his HIV/AIDS advisory panel and refusal to fill other key policy positions puts the U.S. at risk of slipping backward on prevention just as the opioid epidemic threatens to spread the virus among intravenous drug users. The advisory panel, which has existed in some form since the Reagan years, sits empty after Trump removed all 16 of its remaining members last week. (Ehley, 1/3)

The Hill: Credit Rater Predicts Stable Year For ObamaCare Markets 
The ObamaCare insurance markets will be relatively stable through 2018, analysts predicted Wednesday. Insurers have adapted to the uncertainty surrounding the Trump administration's handling of the law, A.M. Best, a global credit rating organization, wrote in a briefing released Wednesday. It said insurers should have a stable 2018. (Hellmann, 1/3)

The Associated Press: Price Tag On Gene Therapy For Rare Form Of Blindness: $850K
A first-of-its kind genetic treatment for blindness will cost $850,000 per patient, making it one of the most expensive medicines in the world and raising questions about the affordability of a coming wave of similar gene-targeting therapies. The injectable treatment from Spark Therapeutics can improve the eyesight of patients with a rare genetic mutation that affects just a few thousand people in the U.S. Previously there has been no treatment for the condition, which eventually causes complete blindness by adulthood. (1/3)

The Washington Post: Gene Therapy For Inherited Blindness Sets Precedent: $850,000 Price Tag
The drug, called Luxturna, is the realization of a long-sought scientific dream: The one-time treatment corrects a faulty gene to improve vision, allowing patients to see the stars or their parents' faces. Only 1,000 to 2,000 people in the United States are thought to have deteriorating vision caused by this errant gene, called RPE65, but Luxturna is widely expected to be the first in a wave of cutting-edge treatments that are targeted at fixing the causes of a wide range of genetic diseases — while also raising difficult questions about how to pay for them. (Johnson, 1/3)

The Wall Street Journal: Drug Firm Spark Therapeutics Will Charge $850,000 For Vision-Loss Gene Therapy
To address concerns about the cost of the drug, Luxturna, Spark said it is offering alternative payment arrangements to health insurers, including partial refunds if a patient’s vision doesn’t improve significantly after treatment. The company also is seeking U.S. government clearance to allow insurers to spread out payments for Luxturna in installments. U.S. regulators approved Luxturna last month, making it the first therapy in the U.S. to deliver a functional gene to replace a faulty disease-causing one. (Loftus, 1/3)

The Wall Street Journal: Allergan Plans Job Cuts As Key Drugs To Lose Exclusivity
Allergan PLC plans to lay off more than 1,000 workers as the drugmaker works to restructure its business ahead of sales declines expected for several key products, including blockbuster dry-eye drug Restasis. Allergan, which has about 18,000 employees world-wide, said Wednesday in a regulatory filing that the job cuts will affect employees in its commercial operations and other functions. It also plans to eliminate about 400 open positions. Allergan didn’t specify the geographic regions where it planned to reduce employment. (Al-Muslim and Rockoff, 1/3)

Politico: Pulse Check: FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb discusses his agency's work, why he took the job and what lies ahead in 2018. In a panel discussion, POLITICO reporters analyze Gottlieb's comments and discuss the looming issues facing FDA. (1/3)

The New York Times: This Judge Has A Mission: Keep Defendants Alive
There are two kinds of defendants who enter Judge Craig D. Hannah’s courtroom: Those who stand on the far side of the bench to have their cases considered in the usual way, and those invited to step closer. Close enough to shake the judge’s hand or shout obscenities in his face, depending on their mood that day. Both kinds are facing criminal charges, but those in the second group have volunteered to take part in an experiment where the primary goal is to save their lives. Arrested for crimes related to addiction, they are participants in what is believed to be the nation’s first opioid court. (Williams, 1/3)

The New York Times: ‘Forget About The Stigma’: Male Nurses Explain Why Nursing Is A Job Of The Future For Men
Jake Creviston, a nurse practitioner, has been repeatedly mistaken for a doctor. Adam White says the veterans he cares for as a student nurse at the V.A. hospital feel comfortable around him because “I’m a big burly guy with a beard. ”Glenn Fletcher, after being laid off from a lumber mill during the financial crisis, found a new career in nursing. And with it, “a really good feeling putting your head on the pillow realizing you’ve helped other people.” (Miller and Fremson, 1/4)

The New York Times: The Hospital Gown Gets A Modest Makeover
As 2018 dawns and with it the new tax plan, the future of health care for many individuals remains uncertain. But there is at least one type of improvement in coverage Americans can look forward to: the end of the dreaded exposed rear end, that hospital cliché created by back-tying gowns that has been immortalized in movies including “Something’s Gotta Give” (courtesy of a medicated Jack Nicholson stumbling down the hallway) to “Yes Man” (Jim Carrey this time, spotted on the back of a motorcycle). The fashion world has woken up to a new dressing opportunity. (Safronova, 1/3)

Los Angeles Times: In A Turf Battle For Organs, A Policy Review Rattles The National Transplant System
Tethered to a breathing machine at a Manhattan hospital, 21-year-old Miriam Holman would die without a lung transplant. But her odds of finding a suitable organ were especially low in New York, where waiting times are among the longest in the country. Just across the Hudson River in New Jersey, patients in far better condition routinely receive lungs much more quickly. Pockets of the South and Midwest also have dramatically shorter waiting times. The disparities stem from a principle that has always guided the national transplant system: local first. Most organs stay in the areas where they are donated, even if sicker patients are waiting elsewhere. (Zarembo, 1/3)

Los Angeles Times: A Popular Sugar Additive May Have Fueled The Spread Of Not One But Two Superbugs
Two bacterial strains that have plagued hospitals around the country may have been at least partly fueled by a sugar additive in our food products, scientists say. Trehalose, a sugar that is added to a wide range of food products, could have allowed certain strains of Clostridium difficile to become far more virulent than they were before, a new study finds. The results, described in the journal Nature, highlight the unintended consequences of introducing otherwise harmless additives to the food supply. (Khan, 1/3)

The Washington Post: ‘Raw Water’ Is The Latest Health Craze. Here’s Why Drinking It May Be A Bad Idea.
Hold your canteen under a natural spring and you'll come away with crystal clear water, potentially brimming with beneficial bacteria as well as minerals from the earth. That's what proponents of the “raw water” movement are banking on — selling people on the idea of drinking water that contains the things they say nature intended without the chemicals, such as chlorine, often used in urban water treatment processes. In some areas of the country, including the West Coast, it has become a high-dollar commodity — water captured in glass bottles and sold straight to you. (Bever, 1/3)

The Washington Post: Lawyers Seek To Ease Doctor’s Sentence For Medicare Fraud
Even though a politically prominent Florida eye doctor was convicted of Medicare fraud, that doesn’t mean the federal government lost more than $100 million as prosecutors contend, his attorneys argued Wednesday as they tried to save him from a lengthy prison sentence. Dr. Salomon Melgen may have told Medicare he was treating patients for diseases they didn’t have but they did have other eye diseases and benefited from the treatment they received, attorneys Matthew Menchel and Josh Sheptow told U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra. (Spencer, 1/3)

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent operating program of the Kaiser Family Foundation. (c) 2017 Kaiser Health News. All rights reserved.

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